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psychohistory (sì´ko-hîs´te-rê) noun
plural psychohistories
A psychological or psychoanalytic interpretation or study of historical events or persons: the psychohistory of the Nazi era.
- psy´chohistor´ian (-hî-stôr´ê-en, -stòr´-) noun
- psy´chohistor´ical (-hî-stôr´î-kel, -stòr´-) adjective

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Psychohistory is the study of the psychological motivations of historical events, combining the insights of psychotherapy with the research methodology of the social sciences to understand the emotional origin of the social and political behavior of groups and nations, past and present.

Psychohistory was also the name of a internal linkfictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy universe, which combined history, psychology and mathematical statistics to create a (nearly) exact science of the behavior of very large populations of people, such as the Galactic internal linkEmpire. Asimov used the analogy of a gas - In a gas, the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, but the mass action of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy. Asimov applied this concept to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in the quadrillions. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates: that the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large and that they should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

Later on in his career, Asimov described historical (pre-Seldon) origins of psychohistory. In The Robots of Dawn, he describes roboticist Han Fastolfe's attempts to create the science based on careful observation of others, particularly his daughter Vasilia.

As a precursor to psychohistory, one of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, a character describes the possibility of forecasting the behaviour of society using mathematical means.

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from The internal linkFoundationatomjacked inventory cacheSeries by internal linkIsaac Asimov



That branch of mathematics that deals with the overall reactions of large groups of human beings to given stimuli under given conditions. In other words, it is supposed to predict social and historical changes.

Hari Seldon modeled his science of psychohistory on the kinetic theory of gases.  Each atom or molecule in a gas moves randomly so that the position or velocity of any one of them cannot be known.  Nevertheless, using statistics, the rules governing their overall behaviour can be worked out with great precision.  In the same way, Seldon intended to work out the overall behaviour of human societies even though the solutions would not apply to the behaviour of individual human beings.

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first mention of psychohistory in internal linkUsenet:

From: utcsrgv!donald (utcsrgv!donald)
Subject: internal linkREAL Sciences Don't Eat Quiche
Newsgroups: net.misc
Date: 1982-06-16 09:35:05 PST

Some of the comments about "technical people" (engineers and us computer scientists) vs. (pinko) social scientists, and psychology as a black art vs. computer science as a REAL science are amazingly silly and narrowminded.

First of all, computer science is not as close to engineering as one might think.  I hardly think automata theory, complexity theory, and programming methodology, etc., qualify as technical fields, any more than internal linkquantum mechanics does.

There appears to be semantic confusion as to what constitutes a "science". Strictly speaking, a "science" is a discipline which attempts to develop a paradigm of the physical world (sometimes known as "reality"), using what is commonly called the "scientific method" as a tool.  Thus, mathematics and much of "computer science" are not sciences.  Neither is engineering or programming: they are merely exercises in technology, or applied uses of scientific results.  So Andy Tannenbaum really didn't have to get upset...

To Laura & pcmcgeer: just because psychology presently lacks Hari Seldon and psychohistory does not mean that it is not a valid science.  Psychology appears to be an organized discipline utilizing scientific methodology, so it qualifies as a science, albeit still in the infant stages.  After all, by your criteria it would seem that Physics is not a science because we can't agree on how many internal linkquarks there are and lack a unified field theory!

The social sciences are concerned with developing a theory of humans and human society, a very restricted, but important, subset of the physical world.  One might argue that pyschology and the other social sciences (which the technical heathen of usenet disdain so much) are the MOST important of all the sciences, for they are concerned ultimately with HUMANS (i.e. people!), and that is hardly ignoble.  Useneters seem more concerned with Dei ex machina than members of their own species.

                                        Don Chan (utcsrgv!donald)

P.S.  This flame is all the more surprising coming from me, a technical guy with aspirations to the physical sciences, and mostly ignorant of the social sciences.

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